Tuesday, February 22, 2011


What are you?

Out of context, this is a jarring, unexpected question. The first time I was asked this question, I was stunned into speechlessness, unsure how to answer it. Umm, a human? A woman? were the first thoughts that ran through my head. What exactly was this person asking? After a couple seconds of surprised silence, I figured that she was asking about my racial/ethnic background. Having my physical appearance send people into confusion for most of my life, it wasn't a huge leap to assume that the woman asking me this question was having the same dilemma. I had simply never been asked in this way before. Most people were a little more subtle, asking where I was from. Having been asked this question many times, I'm always curious to know where they think I'm from. I've gotten answers ranging from France to Russia to Mongolia to America.

The discussion of race in America is complex, with many nuances and perspectives. There can be no generalization of the experience of minorities. Each has a different history, and with that history, different feelings. However, there is no doubt. Being white has inherent privilege. Should we feel guilty about it? Although I may not have been the person who created the systems (slavery, segregation, general social discrimination, etc), I am a beneficiary of someone else's disadvantage, for white advantage came at the cost of another's loss. So what do I do about it now?

My professor calls it cultural labor. This basically means I need to work to reverse stereotypes. That I have to be intentional about entering the worlds of people different than I am, with the desire to learn. With the courage to admit my privilege. And yes, I am privileged. Though I am not only white, I don't stand out among whites, appearance-wise. In seeking a job in the corporate world, I have a white name. Of course, I strongly believe that my privilege extends much further than these two examples, but they are a start. After admitting privilege, I also admit that there are many things about other minority experience that I have no understanding of. Hopefully conversations can happen from this point.

After this conversation, what has changed? Have I and this other person suddenly eradicated institutional racism in one fell swoop? I wish. But hopefully from here, more conversations can come. Hopefully healing can begin. Hopefully these conversations will be occurring among the people who actually do have the power to enact legislation that can begin to fix this massive, unspoken (at least among white people) issue that perpetrates the entire nation.

These are some of my thoughts as I learn about what being white means in the US. In the world. I've started and restarted this post many times, but I wanted to get some beginning thoughts out. I heard an author once say that she hoped that we would be discussing race with our children just as you would discuss sex and drugs. I had never thought about this, but I totally agree. However, as I sit here thinking, I realize that is another sign of my privilege. Not having the issue of race be in my face everyday, not having to be aware of my race in every interaction. Many minorities are extremely conscious of their race and racial domination from an early age. These conversations probably happen at much higher frequencies among minority families--not so with white. I've gotten the sex/relationship talk, as well as the drug talk, but I never got the race talk.

Something to think about.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Dogs, like people can be photogenic and not so photogenic. Take Barkley. He's a little bit of a rascal. Sometimes we think his wires got crossed before he was adopted (he chases reflected light on the ceiling, and instead of wagging his tail, it shivers. like he's super nervous. or cold). He's also really skinny but lightning fast. As a terrier, he also has a killer instinct. Oh, the stories my aunt could tell you about the adventures he and Willa have gotten into. Which brings me to the other dog. Willa, or Willa Bean, as I like to call her, is a ham. Attention, attention, attention. She needs it. When I see her, I stop, start talking to her, and on cue, she gradually lowers herself to the ground (not a far distance, as she's about a foot tall) while wagging her entire second half, and exposes her tummy to be rubbed. All this, merely at my speaking to her. I haven't even touched her yet. What's really cute is if you stand at the door and yell for Barkley, if Willa is standing there, she'll start whimpering and yelping. She knows someone else is being called.

Back to photogenicity. We'll call that a real word.

In the midst of my virus overrun sickness, I removed myself to the countryside and decided to go for a walk. Granted, this may not have been the wisest decision, because in my physically weakened state, getting lost would have been... a problem. However, that is another discussion. On this walk, the two said puppies went with me. Good life choice. I walked down to the river, toting my camera, seeking something of beauty in the midst of the barren landscape that showed the ravages of winter. I find winter hard to photograph and present as beautiful because the colors are so bleak. But when I reached the river, hints of green revealed themselves. I started taking pictures of moss and other small growing foliage. As I looked up from one spot, I saw Barkley standing on a rock, looking intently at the other shore. Snap. He blended in with the background. So I continued. I found this sun bleached white rock that was covered in vibrantly green moss. Crawling over, I started clicking away. I sat back on the rock to look at what I had taken. Unfortunately, nothing I particularly loved. Oh well. As I looked up, Barkley bounded onto the white rock and started exploring. Adorable! Snap. Snap. Snap. I like. Yes, he did display his rear for a good portion of the pictures, but I think I captured some good looking ones. I turned to Willa, wanting to get her too, because she's a cute terrier too. But it's hard to take a picture of a puppy that stays around your feet. Not much room for perspective. Commands like "Look over here Willa!" also went ignored. Shrug. What's a girl to do?
I guess there are times when Barkley's rascally, adventuring nature play to his advantage. In case he ever wants to be in a puppy magazine. Sorry Willa.